Response to Letter of Concern

To the Members of the Medieval Academy of America:

The Officers and Governance of the Medieval Academy of America have received a Letter of Concern signed by several dozen members regarding the question of remuneration for the position of Speculum Editor. We would like to share our response with you.

Dear Colleagues and Friends,

Thank you for bringing to our attention your concerns about the proposed structure of the Speculum Editor-in-Chief position — specifically, the fact that the ad specifies that the position will not be remunerated.

We would like to start by saying that we hear and understand these concerns. We hope with this message to explain why the ad was configured in this way and to outline our priorities regarding Speculum and the MAA, but also and more importantly, we want to assure you of our flexibility and willingness to reconsider the parameters of the position. We are confident that we all share the same goals: to preserve the rigor and quality of Speculum while supporting the full spectrum of MAA members and protecting the future of medieval studies.

The position description reflected the current editorial situation, which has differed from previous configurations. When the position of Editor-in-Chief was last advertised, in 2018, the ad copy specified that:

“In addition to a curriculum vitae, the cover letter should include ideas about future directions for the journal, and discussion of how s/he envisions setting up the position, either in the MAA office, now in Cambridge, MA, or by moving the operation to a university campus. If the latter, s/he will describe possible institutional support. The search committee wants to identify the best pool of candidates, and the MAA is willing to be flexible in finding ways to accommodate the various modes of professional life encountered in the searching process. However, wherever the ultimate location of the Editor, there will need to be access to a major research library and to graduate students who can be hired for assistance.”

The partnership with Catholic University came about because Katherine Jansen was selected by the search committee, and Kate was able to negotiate favorable conditions with her employer. That partnership has proven to very beneficial to the MAA – first and foremost because Kate has been a spectacular editor, but also because the financial support provided by Catholic University allowed the MAA to balance its budget for the first time in many years, and to fund a variety of programs designed to support graduate students, junior scholars, and independent scholars. The savings were not solely related to the Editor-in-Chief’s salary, but also because the partnership allowed the MAA to move from very its expensive Cambridge headquarters to smaller and less expensive space in Boston. Moreover, the fact that Kate elected to use the $100,000+/year still provided to Speculum by the MAA to support five staff members – Managing Editor, Assistant Editor, Copy Editor, Proofreader, and Administrative Assistant – meant that we were able to offer graduate students and less-senior scholars financial support and valuable experience.

Continuing to seek out an analogous partnership seemed to us (Robin, Sara, Peggy, and Lisa) to be the most prudent and beneficial course of action. But we have no wish to be inflexible. We are more than willing to have open discussion about other possible configurations with the Council, concerned members, and with prospective applicants for the position.

In your letter, you offer three suggestions for moving forward:

1. Funding for the Speculum editor’s position [should] be given priority in the next fiscal year’s budget.
2. Commensurate funds [should] be raised through a concerted campaign to sustain a salaried editor position.
3. Publication of the journal [should] be suspended until such funds are available.

Regarding the first suggestion: this is something that we are very willing to consider! The goal will be to work together to identify and (hopefully) agree on priorities, since any funds used to remunerate an Editor-in-Chief would have to be taken from somewhere (and someone) else. One possibility would be to invite prospective editors to propose a different allocation of the $100,000+ per annum that the MAA currently invests in the Speculum staff (most of whom are early-career medievalists). Reallocating the funds currently used, at the request of a former Editor-in-Chief, to pay for Speculum Board members to attend the Annual Meeting is another possibility (though we would note that junior scholars on the Board have said that help in attending the Annual Meeting was a major draw of serving).

[Sara would like to add a personal note here: in the “statement” I offered when I was nominated to be an officer, I wrote that my top concern would be to work to ensure that up-and-coming generations of medievalists will have a future in medieval studies, broadly construed. That is a priority that I will advocate for in all discussions of allocating MAA resources.]

Regarding the second suggestion: we absolutely would welcome such an initiative! We are happy to consult with the Council about making support for the publication of Speculum, up to and including the funding of a fully-paid editorship, an explicit fundraising target once the current Matching Campaign, whose goals have already been enumerated, ends in late 2024. It does not seem likely, however, that sufficient funds could be raised by January 2025, when as per Kate’s schedule the editorial transition must begin.

Regarding the third suggestion: this is not a move we are prepared to contemplate. Speculum is hugely important to all MAA members and to medievalists around the world. It allows scholars at all career levels and with a wide range of employment situations and affiliations to share their scholarship with colleagues and benefit from the highest quality editorial and peer input. It offers stellar scholarship to a wide readership (including, thanks to new initiatives, the general public). Publishing in Speculum and/or being reviewed in Speculum can be central to beginning scholars’ efforts to gain employment, to boosting junior TT scholars’ prospects for tenure, and to affirming the quality and credentials of independent scholars. We cannot justify depriving our members and the broader medievalist community of these benefits because the MAA (unfortunately, but together with almost every other academic society we have consulted) is financially and spatially unable to craft an editorial position that is equally accessible to every individual who might wish to apply.

We hope that this has reassured you of our openness and flexibility. We look forward to continuing this discussion as a Q&A agenda item at the upcoming Business Meeting at Notre Dame (Friday, 15 March, 1 PM, in the Smith Ballroom), and potentially also via remote sessions to be scheduled. There is probably no simple solution, but we think that in consultation with the Council, concerned members, and prospective editors we should be able to find a reasonable way forward.

Warm regards,

Robin Fleming, President
Sara Lipton, President-elect and Chair, Speculum Editor search committee
Peggy McCracken, First Vice President-elect and member, Speculum Editor search committee
Lisa Fagin Davis, Executive Director

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